Answer this without thinking. What is your most memorable Christmas gift?
When I see that question, the first thing that comes to mind is a stick of deodorant.
The year was 1981 and we were invited to a staff Christmas party for my husband’s school co-workers. We had moved to that west-central Indiana community the summer before, and while the job came with a raise, there were financial setbacks on the other side of the balance sheet. I no longer brought in a paycheck because with the move, the plan was for me to go to college full time, year-round, until I had a journalism degree. That meant college fees and gas to get there.
Not only that, but we left behind in Richmond a mobile home on which we were making payments, plus lot rent, as we had been unable to sell it. To make it even harder, the trailer park wouldn’t let us put out a for sale sign.
We were making it. But things were tight. So tight, in fact, that the idea of buying the gag gift for the party seemed too much to ask. So I scrounged around and wrapped up some odd thing that we had around the house. Surely, we would get in exchange some equally odd thing from someone else’s house.
Instead, our gag gift was a new stick of brand-name deodorant. The person who brought it had obviously paid for it, and it was nice and useful. This meant one less item on our personal shopping list. I remember this because now it seems comical, the look on our faces, as though we had won a lottery.
Had anyone been watching our reactions, that person would surely be confused by our inappropriate glee.
We told this story to a friend who is a couple decades older. She has a similar story that involves the Christmas her husband bought her a potato masher. The circumstances were different but the sentiment the same. They were young, and broke, and the present was a bright spot.
I suppose there are a number of morals to these stories: That living within your means is superior to buying or receiving gifts that break your budget. That delayed gratification is better than trying to grab it before its time — and then feel sick about the bills later. That at best, material gifts bring only temporary happiness. Or how sometimes shiny new presents only mean a trip to the store the day after Christmas to stand in line and return them.
But also, stories such as the gag gift and the potato masher bring to mind special memories of a place and a time, of making do but not minding because you are with the ones you love.
I’ve got 58 Christmases under my belt, but it would take me a while to remember many of the gifts, lovely though they have been, that have been under our trees. Yet that deodorant stick always comes to mind this time of year. And I smile with the memory.
This column appeared Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 in the New Castle, Indiana Courier-Times where Donna Cronk is Neighbors Editor as well as editor of the quarterly her magazine for women.